WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump appears intent on moving forward next week on US steel and aluminium tariffs, with no exemptions for allies, the US commerce secretary said Sunday, minimizing the threat of retaliation as "pretty trivial."
"I know he's had conversations with a number of the world leaders," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on ABC's "This Week".
"The decision, obviously, is his. But as of the moment, as far as I know, he's talking about a fairly broad brush."
Trump ignited fears of a trade war and an outcry from US trading partners this week when he abruptly announced blanket 25 percent tariffs on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminium.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said she raised her "deep concern" over the tariffs in a phone call with Trump on Sunday, her office said.
If the E.U. wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on U.S. companies doing business there, we will simply apply a Tax on their Cars which freely pour into the U.S. They make it impossible for our cars (and more) to sell there. Big trade imbalance!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 3, 2018
The European Union has said it is drawing up measures against leading US brands like Harley-Davidson and Levi's jeans, while China warned it "won't sit idly by" if its interests are hurt.
Canada, which has the most to lose as the top source of US steel and aluminium imports, has called the tariffs "unacceptable."
Ross, who said he expected them to go into effect in the coming week, played down the impact on the US economy of retaliatory measures.
He said $9-billion (R107-billion) in US tariffs would be a fraction of one percent of the US economy.
"So, the notion that it would destroy a lot of jobs, raise prices, disrupt things, is wrong," he said.
The United States has an $800 Billion Dollar Yearly Trade Deficit because of our “very stupid” trade deals and policies. Our jobs and wealth are being given to other countries that have taken advantage of us for years. They laugh at what fools our leaders have been. No more!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 3, 2018
"As to the idea of retaliation, sure there may well be some sort of retaliation, but the amounts that they're talking about are also pretty trivial.
"It's some $3-billion of goods that the Europeans have threatened to put something on. Well, in our sized economy, that's a tiny, tiny fraction of one percent."
"So while it might affect an individual producer for a little while, overall it's not going to be much more than a rounding error," he said.
The move has been highly controversial among Republicans and within the administration, but Trump on Friday tweeted that "trade wars are good and easy to win".
When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 2, 2018
Peter Navarro, a top White House trade adviser, said the administration would consider exemptions on a case-by-case basis but "no country exclusions."
"As soon as you start exempting countries you have to raise the tariffs on everybody else. As soon as you exempt one country, then you have to exempt another country and so it's a slippery slope," he said on CNN's "State of the Union."